By Kevin Smith
There is little question that the future of industrial operations will be inextricably conjoined with an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy. Even in this early stage of what is being referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, case studies are documenting remarkable benefits to organizations. When dealing with industrial environments that are regulated hazardous areas where the risk of explosion is high, the benefits of an IoT platform might be more elusive than for typical industrial operations.
Connecting “everything” becomes vastly more challenging in large chemical plants, refineries or other like locations when the employees in these locations are not yet connected to the Cloud. Gaining Cloud connectivity is not as easy as handing them a mobile device because typical devices produce far too much stored energy to safely enter the combustible atmospheres that often exist in these types of operations. Only “intrinsically safe” devices that are certified by governing authorities to be incapable of producing a spark are permitted in hazardous areas in order to avoid a possible explosion. Additionally, these enormous “meta-scale” hazardous locations have thousands or millions of data points to consider, from air temperature, to gas presence, to machine performance, so they are arguably more difficult to monitor. Also, mobile devices used in these facilities must run multiple complex applications and adhere to strict security codes, making their connections to the Cloud more complicated.
However, the benefits gained from connecting people and things in hazardous industrial environments are vast, with data collection and analysis leading to insight into ways for improving processes and, thus, productivity. Procrastinating this Cloud connectivity only delays Return on Investment. Therefore, the prudent leader should narrow his organization’s options and then take the first step.
Because a company cannot successfully connect everything until it securely and safely connects its people to the Cloud, the enterprise-friendly Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise operating systems are the only obvious choices for those people’s mobile devices. Depending on the organization’s needs, there is a version that is right for even businesses operating extremely hazardous locations.
If the objective, though, is to simply take the first step to connect employees to the Cloud by replacing their clipboard and pencil (which they are using because they don’t have an intrinsically safe certified device), Windows 10 might still present too many options and too much flexibility and, therefore, more delays. Success in IoT for Hazardous Locations may require simplicity.
To simplify an immediate deployment, Windows 10 IoT Enterprise is the binary identical version to Windows 10 Enterprise, but with the ability to limit the device to a few applications, without Edge and without access to Store. This version enables enterprises to quickly deploy a version of Windows with all the same security features but without the requirement of creating new user rules for employees who may never have had access to a computer on the job due to hazard restrictions.
Once the Windows 10 IoT Enterprise OS is deployed, IT departments can monitor usage and, at a later date as benefits continue to grow, access to more features. Or, they may determine they are ready to deploy a full Enterprise version of Windows 10. At that time, they can do a simple upgrade, enabling companies to quickly evolve the usage of their devices.
With Windows IoT Enterprise, organizations can take a fast and easy first step to connecting their people to the Cloud. The next step will be connecting “everything.”